Rated as one of the best Ironman races in the world, Taupo has been hosting Ironman New Zealand for over 20 years. It's no surprise that this picturesque location has been selected to host the 70.3 World Championships this year in November. If you’re heading there for the first time, for either race, here are a few things you can expect.
Where to stay?
The key here is to find a place convenient and quiet enough so you don’t get drained from the Ironman buzz. Nukuhau is just over the other side of the river from the start line and is the place to be. There are plenty of Airbnb homes available with easy access to the transition area. The race doesn’t go through here so no roads are shut off either. If you’ve got a car then going as far down as Acacia Bay is very peaceful.
If you’re traveling in from overseas, like me from Sydney, then there are 2 options once you fly into Auckland (unless you plan on doing something rogue). You can either drive or fly to Taupo. If you want a car while you’re there then take the 3 hour hit and drive down. This gives you a chance to tick off Hobbiton and other tourist sites along the way. Otherwise, take the plane, it’s got the best view over Lake Taupo.
The swim is incredible! The water is crystal clear, and you'll see the golf balls from the local 'hole-in-one challenge' (this is surely a myth, but if anyone knows of someone actually getting one here let me know).
You'll exit the swim up the boat ramp and then enjoy a longish trot to T1. Quick tip - rip off your wetsuit as quickly as possible and run with it in your hands up the stairs. You'll save minutes.
The bike course has you heading north to Reporoa and back. Ironman has you doubling this, otherwise it's just the once for the 70.3. You can always expect wind, normally on the way back towards town which will get stronger throughout the day. This doubled up with a 10km incline to town has you grinding away. Other than that it's a pretty route showcasing the NZ countryside.
Swim and bike for show, run for dough. If you step out of the hurt locker for a second while running along the edge of the lake, you'll witness the spectacular site of the mountains on the other side. It's one for the Gram! It must be up there with one of the top run courses in the world.
Rain, hail or shine you can expect the best support throughout the day from the locals. Top it off with that red carpet finish and "YOU ARE AN IRONMAN" over the speakers.
Now the generic tri stuff is out the way here is what you should really expect.
Cam Brown. This guy is part of the furniture for this race and definitely the 'King of Taupo'. This 12-time winner of NZ Ironman was probably first racing here when you were still in nappies. He'll most likely still be racing it when you're telling your grandkids of the day you raced Taupo. Either way, Cam will still be challenging for the title and always has time to speak to other athletes, a true Kiwi gem.
The Maori Welcome. Coming from overseas, this is a spine-chilling experience. You're already nervous, excited and bricking it before the race but seeing this cultural performance at the race start will see your emotions kick in. Make sure you've got in and out of transition early so you can get to the race start and witness this. It'll supercharge you.
Mass Start. This is unusual to see in Ironman races now due to the volume of athletes racing. But this gives you that traditional Ironman feeling and a benefit for those that are really racing. For those specatating, you will witness a washing machine effect when the canon goes off.
"Largest Pizza in Taupo". Lies. All lies. You're racing Ironman and you plan on eating big because size really does matter. This is a trap! Perhaps all other places in Taupo have really tiny pizzas or Dixie Browns restaurant is telling a fib. Maybe this comment will trickle through to them and the pizzas will double in size. Come on Dixie's you can do bigger.
The Unexpected. That's right you've just read a blog on what to expect and then you read that! But this is race related and in regard to the conditions at Taupo. The forecast might say it's going to be a clear day, no wind and you're thinking jackpot. But you wake up on race morning and strong winds have caused swell on the lake. It's dangerous to be on the aero bars and could be hard to take a hand off the handlebars to get some nutrition in without finding yourself wheels up. On the other hand, it could be the opposite. So, relish the lottery that this can bring and attack it head-on knowing you're prepared.
An Amazing Experience. This is going to a be a race and place that you'll always remember and cherish. Absorb it all!
If you have any other tips or experiences from Ironman NZ to share, feel free to comment or DM me.